By Sherye S. Green
Ingrid’s story: The cost of courage
I first met Ingrid in June of 2010. She was the tour guide for a trip that my mother and I took through Germany and Austria. A beautiful, vivacious older woman, she had sparkling blue eyes and short blond tresses. I still remember how connected I felt to her as I listened to her introductory remarks as we gathered at our hotel. Some people put you instantly at ease, and Ingrid had that gift. For the next 10 days, she would share with us her corner of the world.
The first days of the tour, a present from my mother to celebrate my completion of graduate school, were spent in Bavaria, the picturesque southeastern region of Germany near the Austrian border, dotted with rolling hills of farmland and verdant forests. One of the highlights of our trip was attending the Passion Play held in the village of Oberammergau. Staged for a six-month season once every 10 years, the play reenacts the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
Once in Austria, we toured Salzburg, home to the Von Trapp family of “The Sound of Music” fame, and saw many of the sights featured in the movie. From there we traveled to Vienna.
During the last days of our tour, we traveled back into Germany and headed to Munich. This would be the location from which our group would depart to home destinations across the world. One of our last stops was the Dachau concentration camp. The first of Hitler’s camps to be constructed, the sprawling complex is located just outside Munich.
The day was a little chilly and the sky overcast as we stepped off the bus. I happened to be seated near Ingrid as we headed to Dachau. I still remember her raking her fingers through her hair, as if mustering the courage to complete some onerous mission.
Ingrid turned to me and briefly told me the story of her father’s disappearance. Her family had enjoyed breakfast together on this weekday and then, as usual, her father left for work at his law office. On that spring morning all those years ago, he’d walked out the door and out of their lives — Ingrid, her sister and her mother. She told me they never saw her father again, and always thought he’d been captured by the Nazis, as he was an ardent Austrian national.
Looking toward the iron gates that marked the entrance to Dachau, she continued her story, saying she’d never had the courage to set foot within the walls of the place, as she’d often imagined it was where her father was interned. She said on this particular day she’d made up her mind to face the ghosts of her past.
Somewhere during that day while walking across the lonely, windswept yard of the former prison camp, I became separated from Ingrid. I don’t remember talking with her at the tour’s end. I do, though, remember thinking I had just witnessed one of the bravest acts I had ever seen committed by another human being.
In the short time in which we had visited, Ingrid told me her mother had lived another 60 years after the loss of her husband and raised their two daughters alone. Ingrid’s sister was 14 months younger. Ingrid remarked that her mother had a philosophy that enabled her to carry on, despite this horrific event that forever changed their lives.
The middle age of life can demand a great deal of courage for situations for which many find themselves unprepared — loss of a spouse through death or divorce, a fractured relationship with a family member or close friend, a reassignment in one’s job, the care of aging parents. If you find yourself facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge, take courage from the prophet Isaiah, who reminds us that God is always with us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” (Isaiah 43:2).
I’ve tried to contact Ingrid in the years since, but have been unable to locate her. I’d like to thank her for a life lesson I will never forget — that there is life to be lived, no matter how dark the day or how terrifying the circumstances. She showed me just how much courage costs.
Sherye S. Green is a Jacksonian and a wife, mother and grandmother. She has enjoyed two careers — one in business, the other in education. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul and Tending the Garden of My Heart: Reflections on Cultivating a Life of Faith.